I had my first cervical screening or 'smear test' this week, on International Women's Day! After a lot of press coverage it has been alluded to, that not many people actually go to their tests for a number of reasons. I am shocked at this and so felt it would be a great idea to let you know about my experience as a first timer, and to help reassure you!
I received my letter on February 14th and my test was on March 11th so I really didn't have to wait long! I wasn't actually expecting a letter this soon; I'm not 25 until August, however when the letter came through I was so happy about this. Being able to be checked for abnormal cells in the cervix is a blessing and should not be a passed opportunity. I also knew that my great grandmother died at the age of 52 from cervical cancer, so this test is extra important to me!
When I received the letter, it came with a booklet that helped explain what a cervical screening actually is, and had some great information about what to expect. This helped me to understand what I was going to have done, and actually reassured me a little as I was slightly nervous not knowing what it really consisted of!
So what is a Cervical Screening?
Well the leaflet provided by the NHS first of all, explains that the test helps to prevent cervical cancer. Apparently the test alone saves as many as 5,000 lives each year just in the UK! It is offered to women aged 25 to 49 every 3 years and to all women aged 50 to 64 every 5 years.
The test itself involves taking small samples from the surface of the cervix and then they are sent to a laboratory and checked under a microscope to see if there are any abnormal cells. It is worth noting, that abnormal cells are not cancer, but they could develop into cancer if they are left untreated.
What actually happens?
So as a first timer, I have to admit I was nervous. I have however, had lots of examinations before due to endometriosis, so I half knew what to expect. I can understand however, if someone has never had an internal examination or experienced a speculum, that they would be nervous, but I must stress that this should not stop you from going to your appointment!
I arrived at the doctors surgery and they had a special evening clinic so it was super quiet, I didn't have to take any time off work, and they saw me at my exact appointment time with no waiting around! When I walked into the nurses appointment she checked my details and made sure I was aware of what the test was. She then asked whether I had any thing that she needed to know before hand, asked when my last period was and whether I had any questions.
Due to having the Mirena Coil, I was worried that this would be a problem as it sits above the cervix, however she reassured me that it wouldn't make a difference. I also didn't know whether the fact that I was spotting would make a difference and again she said that it was fine. If you are on your period you would have to reschedule normally I believe, but due to endometriosis I am pretty much always spotting, and when I am not I could never guarantee when this would be so I was relieved that they could do it regardless. Do not let this stop you!
I was then taken into another room with a bed, and asked to remove my trousers and underwear while she left the room. I was told to lie on the bed and was given a large tissue sheet to cover my self with. She then came back in the room and asked me to put my feet together and flop my knees down as far as I could (a bit like a frog position). She then prepared the speculum and inserted this. The insertion can be a little uncomfortable but the trick is to try and relax. It's hard to relax when these sort of procedures are happening, but it really helps if you take deep breaths. Once inserted, the speculum is opened so that they can access the cervix. I wouldn't suggest that it is overly painful, it's just not too comfortable. She then inserted a brush and brushed the cervix a few times to collect the cells. I couldn't really feel this part as I was focusing on keeping relaxed. The actual swiping doesn't feel like anything, I think it's having the speculum in that makes it feel a little uncomfortable. She then removed the brush and just before removing the speculum was kind enough to get out some of the spotting from higher up that I imagine was caught. Not the nicest of things for her to do and yet she did it to help me out. The nurses really are fantastic and go above and beyond to help us ladies out! She then removed the speculum and left me to get dressed again.
After the appointment, I had a tiny bit of cramping in my womb but I think this was because I was finding it hard not to tense up during the appointment, but I wouldn't say that I felt sore because of the procedure at all!
It only took about 10 minutes from walking into the doctors surgery, to heading back to the car!
All in all, the experience was way easier than I expected and less painful than I thought it would be. There are many ladies that miss their appointments as they are worried that it will be painful, or embarrassing and it was neither. The nurses are not bothered whether you have waxed or never shaved in your life, and they certainly are not fussed about a little bit of spotting! All they want to do is get your test done in the most relaxed way possible and to help ensure that you are screened for cervical cancer. This tiny test can literally save your life, it can ensure that you have children, and get to live to an old age. Do not let a little bit of nerves and embarrassment stop you from living a long and wonderful life. It is not worth it. You are a strong woman.
If you are 25 and have not had your letter, please contact your doctors surgery to make sure you get your letter... do not be that statistic that doesn't chase up their letter, or doesn't have their test.
If you have any questions about the procedure at all, please get in contact and I will be more than happy to chat!